Growing Towards the Sunlight – Charles Griebell

Charles is a first place winner of the 2018 NJCTS Scholarship Award and a Youth Advocate of the Year. This is the essay he submitted with his scholarship application. 


From the time I sowed my first Little Marvel Garden Peas as a young boy, I’ve often wondered, “How do plants know how to survive?”  A few years later when I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, I asked myself a similar question, “How will I know how to survive?”  These questions have fostered years of research, experimentation and self-reflection which has led to my work as an agronomics and plant research analyst and being a Youth Advocate for Tourette Syndrome.

My passion for agriculture and my challenges with Tourette Syndrome have curiously intertwined like a vine in “my garden” that has had its share of twists and turns.  Ultimately, it helped me to thrive, but it sure did not happen overnight.  I had such loud scream tics that I would have to scream into a pillow and I would lose my voice and get a sore throat.  My motor tics were equally severe and once I fell down the stairs from my tics.  I missed many days of school and had to receive home instruction.  I felt so isolated, but my love of gardening was a relaxing positive escape that gave me hope.

Since gardening requires nurturing and I like seeing things grow and develop, I thought I would try becoming an NJCTS Youth Advocate.  At first I was hesitant and it took me awhile to be comfortable and have the courage to speak in front of large groups, but once I tried it and felt the joy and reward of connecting with a child suffering from TS, I wanted to do more and more.  There is nothing like the feeling of hearing positive feedback from a family realizing there is hope and bright future ahead for their children living with TS.

Plants such as tomatoes and beans require supports in order to climb and thrive. Like my vegetables, I was very lucky to have a strong support system through my family, friends, school, and NJCTS.  Support systems don’t detract from the strengths of the plant and they help keep the roots intact.  My support system kept me secure.  It was so encouraging to  meet other teens with TS at Camp Bernie Youth Advocate training sessions.  By first shadowing a fellow Youth Advocate during a presentation and participating in the TS Walk committee, I felt empowered to improve my skills and help others.  Meeting New Jersey legislature and congressional offices in Washington, D.C. to advocate for TS helped me learn that action can lead to change and improvement.  My best friends stayed by my side during the many tough times and my family helped me to stay strong, positive and not give up.

My support system gave me the confidence and skills to get jobs in the field of work I love.  My Tourette Syndrome has not stopped me from going on business trips around the country and working with different types of customers and prospects!  I even went to China and though difficult, was able to manage my tics enough to enjoy the trip and learn about a different culture.  I would like to study precision agriculture and pursue a career which may even result in creating or cultivating holistic treatments for Tourette Syndrome.

Staying strong, positive and helping others has been beneficial in keeping me on a stable garden pathway and I will continue to use these strategies as I study Agriculture and Food Systems at Rutgers this fall. While I will always be searching for answers, I do know that plants grow toward the sunlight in order to generate positive energy and survive; I plan to do the same.


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